These are some thoughts I wrote down in the days after his death.
Mon, May 7, 2012 at 5:08 PM
He's only been gone for four days and already I feel him slipping away. I want to remember everything, everything about him.
His soft fur, under his throat and along his cheeks, the sides of his mouth, his ears, the space between his eyes, the top of his head when he would wake up from napping with his hair standing straight up and those wide, sweet eyes.
How bony his hips and shoulders were.
The way it felt to hold him, to carry him up the creek bank, how he leaned into me and let me carry him half way back to the house.
The sound of him panting.
Drinking water from his bowl, or from the toilet.
Holding his hand when we were falling asleep. The way he used to curl his fingers and squeeze my hand.
Holding his hand when he was dying, and after he was dead.
Holding him so many times with my hand on his heart while he slept, practicing for the day when I would hold him and feel his heart beat for the last time.
Holding him that day.
The way he kept getting sweeter and sweeter every day at the end, leaning his head into our hands and snuggling.
The Tater Dance.
Meeting him when he was two days old, seeing all ten puppies and instantly zooming in on the one with the feather on his forehead.
His puppy smell, and his chubby little paws with the tiny black claws.
Watching him sucking in his sleep, the way human babies do.
The day he crawled into the sleeve of my cream-colored cotton sweater and fell asleep.
Putting the Metacam in my aromatherapy cabinet instead of in the dog medicine drawer, because the smell reminds me of him.
The way he would jump and dance when it was time for his food, or when he wanted to play.
I watched the video of Bea chasing the ball, and felt bad that I did not have a ball for Tater too, that day. He so clearly wanted to play and I just kept throwing it for Bea. What was I thinking?
Watching his ears bounce when he walked.
Watching his legs and feet walk.
Seeing his head peek up over the side of my bed when I came into the room.
Watching him sleeping on my bed, and knowing that was where I would lay him down to die someday. And feeling so grateful to have that safe, loving space available for him.
The way he would come into the bathroom to visit with me when I was finally a captive audience.
I resented Bea in a weird way for taking attention away from him.
Tue, May 8, 2012 at 8:40 AM
When he was crying and trying to get up, I thought he'd just gotten uncomfortable on that side and so I turned him over. It hurt him to move, and I didn't want to move him any more than necessary - but now I wish I had thought to change his bedding. I didn't realize how wet it was until morning. Also, I'm obsessed with the thought that it might have been bunched up under him, and hurting him.
That hollow spot under his ribs, where his back muscles and bones were all that was left.
How strong his neck still felt, and how good it was to massage him there.
That gentle massage behind his ears.
Lying on the floor with him that last night with our faces together, holding him and breathing the same air.
He didn't want to drink any water so I pulled some up into one of the syringes from his medicine and flowed a little at a time into his mouth to help with the dryness from all his panting. He seemed to appreciate that.
I could not bring myself to dump out the rest of the water from that bowl. I poured it into my little blue offering bowl and put it on my altar, to evaporate on its own. The water that was left in the syringe, I put into a little blue glass bottle to keep. My holy water.
The first time we took him to the water, at Monte Rio. He ran right into the river after his mother, with no hesitation at all. All the other times there with him, swimming across the river to pick blackberries from the far bank. Watching him swim. His joy in the water.
He would take himself swimming in the winter creek at our Broadway house, then come in and jump into the tub for a warm shower.
His tail was always wagging. He never had a day when he didn't wag his tail.
He would push past my legs to get under the desk.
Tue, May 8, 2012 at 8:44 AM
It hurts to feel him moving away. It is like ships passing – we were each on our own course, then we came together for awhile, and now we're slowly, slowly moving on in different directions. I still feel him here and I wonder how long that will last.
The night he died I fell asleep inviting him to visit me in my dreams, whenever he's ready. I never dream about my closest loved ones until they become in some way symbolic. So if I don't dream about him yet, I guess that could mean it's because he's still real to me in some way. And when that ends, I will see him in my dreams.
Tue, May 8, 2012 at 8:51 AM
We were ready to bury him – I was literally stepping into the grave so Scot could hand him in to me – and my phone rang from across the yard. I hesitated, and Scot said to go ahead and answer it. So I picked it up and it wasn't a phone call. It was my wind chime ring tone that just happened to come up at random as the phone was shuffling through over 2,000 songs.
After we finished filling in the grave I looked up and the full moon was perfectly centered in an opening in the trees directly above us.
Tue, May 8, 2012 at 8:55 AM
That first time I saw him looking at me. I held him up in both hands and there was his little eye, open and looking into mine. I was the first and last person he saw in his life.
Looking into his eyes that last night, seeing in his eyes that he was in pain and needed to get out – out of pain, out of his worn-out body.
Thinking of everyone who's ever lost someone they love. Wondering how other people get through it.
Tue, May 8, 2012 at 10:34 AM
The day after he died, going to work and spending the entire day looking at photos of butterflies for a catalog cover ... butterflies a symbol of transformation ... then going home to bury him. And the next day, seeing butterflies everywhere on the wildflower preserve hike.
Tue, May 8, 2012 at 10:45 AM
Butterflies also noted to be seen in Japan as the personification of one's soul. Elsewhere, as a universal symbol of change, resurrection, transformation, celebration, young love and the soul.
"Imagine the whole of your life changing to such an extreme you are unrecognizable at the end of the transformation. Mind you, this change takes place in a short span of about a month too (that's how long the butterfly life cycle is).
Herein lies the deepest symbolic lesson of the butterfly. She asks us to accept the changes in our lives as casually as she does. The butterfly unquestioningly embraces the chances of her environment and her body.
This unwavering acceptance of her metamorphosis is also symbolic of faith. Here the butterfly beckons us to keep our faith as we undergo transitions in our lives. She understands that our toiling, fretting and anger are useless against the turning tides of nature – she asks us to recognize the same.
Interestingly, in many cultures the butterfly is associated with the soul – further linking our animal symbolism of faith with the butterfly.....
Its connection with the soul is rather fitting. We are all on a long journey of the soul. On this journey we encounter endless turns, shifts, and conditions that cause us to morph into ever-finer beings. At our soul-journey's end we are inevitably changed – not at all the same as when we started on the path.
To take this analogy a step further, we can look again to the grace and eloquence of the butterfly and realize that our journey is our only guarantee. Our responsibility is to make our way in faith, accept the change that comes, and emerge from our transitions as brilliantly as the butterfly."
May 12, 2012, at 11:38 AM
The way he loved apples. He would harvest them from under the trees and bring them into the house to suck on and chew. Same with walnuts – cracking them open and digging out the meat, then leaving the broken shells scattered around the living room.
He went crazy for chicken, too. Any kind. He would stand and watch you preparing his plate, and when he couldn't stand it anymore he would say, "Wuff!" I want my chicken!
He never liked peanut butter until the last few months. I started giving him his pill wrapped in a thin skin of organic honey roasted peanut butter from the fridge. Maybe it was the honey he wanted all along.
He also started eating ashes and charcoal from the wood stove, and eating dirt out of the potted plants in the yard. Also, a couple of weeks before he died he grabbed a slice of pizza right off of S.'s plate and wouldn't give it back when S. grabbed it. He has never stolen food or counter surfed in his entire life - was always the dog that could be left alone in a room with a plate of steak on the coffee table, and when you came back he would not have touched it. Laura said maybe pizza was on his bucket list, and he was going for it while he still had the time.
May 12, 2012 at 5:06 PM
I just dreamed my first dream of him. He and Bea were playing in the grass with a black rubber ball. He picked it up to show me, smiling around the ball in his mouth and wagging his tail, and I saw a shiny penny sticking out of the rubber. A lucky penny, I thought when I woke up and remembered it. So good to see him again, even just for a moment.
May 14, 2012 at 3:54 PM
The thought keeps crossing my mind, "I'm never going to see him again." I feel like my heart is breaking all over again. It's like a panic attack. My mind just wants to escape from this fact.
I can't remember ever in my life feeling as consumed with regret as I do about his last day. I wish I had been better prepared. I feel sick with regret about the way I gave him his first dose of the narcotic pain medicine. Why was I so abrupt? I wish I had held him and told him what was happening, and tried to be more gentle instead of being in such a desperate rush to get the medicine into him. I wish I had planned ahead to have something like that in the house just in case, so he wouldn't have had to wait all those hours in such pain. I feel guilty for sleeping, when I knew he had only a few hours left to live. I wish I had been strong enough to stay awake and watch over him all night.
I am not the strong person I thought I was.
I miss him so much. I just can't believe I will never see him again.
That morning when I woke up and it was raining. So perfect a day to say good-bye to him. After I gave him his pain relief and watched him fall asleep I cleaned the house, picked rosemary and roses for his bedside, lit candles and a fire in the wood stove, laid down on the floor to hold him, sing to him, cry. Bea came in and laid down with us, with her face next to his. Later she climbed up on the bed and laid her head across my shoulder.
The weird thoughts you have. Would I trade Bea for Tater, young and healthy again? The question arises, but it feels meaningless, nonsense. My mind doesn't connect with it. Bea is Bea, Tater was Tater. They are not interchangeable.
What if I could get him back again somehow? Equally incomprehensible. I know he's gone. His song was complete, as Scot kept saying - strangely comforting. I do feel very grateful that I knew all his life how special he was, and cherished and loved him every day of his life.
May 17, 2012 at 4:32 PM
I haven't seen him for two whole weeks. I've never gone that long without seeing him since the day he was born, except that time S and I went on that road trip. Actually that was only 10 days. So yeah. This is the longest I've ever not seen him.
Still feeling this grief in a very physical, visceral way. My chest hurts, I'm tired, I can't sleep or concentrate, my appetite is gone. It makes sense in a way, since my relationship with him was so physical and emotional – not mental or intellectual in any way. Maybe that's why I'm having a hard time thinking about this ... I don't WANT to think about it. I just want to feel it. I want to dance it, walk it, experience it in my body. I don't want to understand it. It is un-understandable. So why am I still trying to write? I guess because this is my fall-back response, it's what I know, what I've practiced. Interesting to see that in this case it doesn't seem to be helping me feel better. Has it ever? When I think about why I want to write this, what comes up is that I want to remember what this is like. I want to remember him, and I want to remember my experience of loving him and losing him. I want to claim and remember this part of my life.
Good to see how my old neglected writing practice has risen up from the depths to lift & carry me through this ... And to think how other practices might do the same, if I cultivate them the same way I've cultivated this one. Yoga comes to mind. Running. Breath work. Prayer.
It's a terrible, empty, at times almost frantic feeling to realize I won't be seeing him again. Two weeks.
It just keeps going through my mind, "It's over." This is the life that we had together. Now I have my life without him in it anymore. It's a good life. I just miss him. I can't even say I wish things were different ... What does it even mean to wish something like that? I just miss him. I miss him. I loved him, and I miss him.
He spent so much time sleeping the last couple of years, sometimes it's hard to comprehend that he's actually not still here, just sleeping in his bed in the other room. I remember waking him up to give him his bedtime medicine, and sometimes not giving it to him because he was sleeping so hard I didn't want to disturb him. Sometimes it was hard to wake him up. Once a few weeks ago I even had to shake him awake; for about 10 seconds I thought he might have died in his sleep.
This is how living things fade, when they're given the time. Except for the pain those last few hours of the night, maybe it wasn't such a bad way to go. I'm so grateful I got to hold him. So grateful I was there, and we had that time at the creek, and our walk, and the chance to carry him home. Whispering "I love you" with every step. I'm so grateful I have that physical memory of how it felt to hold his body, to carry his weight, to feel his head resting against my shoulder. To hold him while he died.
I had practiced that with him his whole life, almost 14 years. When you fall in love with an animal it's a pretty good bet that you will know him and love him every day until he dies, and that you will be the one who decides when that happens. So we practiced for that moment. I would hold him with my hand on his heart, kissing his head, and thinking, "Someday I'll hold him just like this, and I'll feel his heart stop beating." And I would count the beats, and try to pour all the love I had into my hands, into his heart. I'm so grateful that in that way his death was exactly as I'd imagined it. I was heartbroken, but able to stay present and accept what was happening, and really experience it, without resistance. A new kind of experience for me.
I found a duration calculator online that says Tater's lifetime amounted to 5086 days – 13 years, 11 months, and 3 days. 122,064 hours. 7,323,840 minutes. 439,430,400 seconds. All that last night and day I kept the house silent, so I could hear him breathing. The other thing I heard was the little clock ticking away next to my bed. Ticking off the last seconds of his life.
June 4, 2012 at 3:18 PM
His birthday came and went. Today it's a month since we buried him; to commemorate the occasion I'm going to a full moon yoga class with a few friends who came to help that night.
Mr. A's sister said, "Don't be surprised if you still see him around sometimes." And the other day I did. I looked out the kitchen window and saw him coming toward the house through the flowers ... and then after a couple of seconds I realized it was Bea, not Tater. My heart did a flip, then sank. Then after awhile it rose up again, happy to have seen him and grateful to Bea for helping me remember him.
I took her to the vet this morning for a foxtail in her ear (which turned out not to be there – it's just allergies) and one of the nurses kept calling her "Tater." The other one kept saying, "That's not Tater!" and looking at me apologetically ... and then we all had to kind of laugh, because they all knew him almost as long as I did, and they loved him too. Then while I was waiting, a man came into the reception area in tears because one of his chickens was dying and he didn't know what to do, and I couldn't stop myself from crying with him.
I'm still crying a little most days, what I guess you could call "healing tears." It's usually only when I'm going to sleep, when we used to have our goodnight ritual. Bea likes to sleep under the bed instead of on it or next to it, so we're evolving our own ritual. I'm amazed and very happy about how our relationship has changed in the last month; it's almost like she was holding back all this time (or maybe it was me) to give me space to be with Tater, and now that he's gone I'm finally open enough to really let her in. The day he died I remember praying, please let me grow to love her just as much, because as much as it hurts to lose him I want to always have this kind of love in my life.
Mostly though I'm actually feeling really happy. Calm and even sort of joyful, like everything is OK in the world, even though nothing much has changed since I was last feeling so anxious. Maybe it's as simple as finally finding the right drug! Whatever it is, I'm grateful and I feel like losing my boy is part of it. My heart hasn't been so broken in a very long time, or maybe ever, and I do feel like it's "growing stronger in the broken places," as the papa said.
I did a volunteer shift at the Ox Roast yesterday and one of the women I was working with shared that it was the birthday of her daughter Heidi, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1985, when she was only 13 years old. I thought, but didn't say, that I spent 13 years with my dog and felt like I was going to die when he died; I honestly can't imagine how parents get through losing actual human children. I really did feel like his death might have literally broken my heart – my chest ached for so long that I finally went to the doctor for an EKG, to make sure I hadn't had a heart attack. He said everything looks great, all my numbers are great, I'm great, etc. etc. ... And we concluded that what I was feeling was just muscle strain from overdoing it on upper body workouts at the gym.
Anyway. The body! Watching him grow from a potato-sized pupster to an exuberant, healthy adult, to a frail, fading flower of a beautiful boy ... and then disappear back into the mystery ... It's humbling. I feel more love and compassion than ever for the people around me, and for my own sweet little human body. Peace and gratitude are taking up ever more space in my heart these days, maybe because I'm learning how to let them grow instead of crowding them out with fears and projections about the future. The work of a lifetime.